Nicklaus Gets First Look at Summit Rock over Skywater

By: Steve Habel

There was a Bear sighting Sunday in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, in mid-October. But this one wasn't looking for honey or rummaging through a campsite - he was trying to bring something even more special to an area already teeming with memorable golf courses and upper-crush housing developments.

The bear of which we are speaking is the Golden one, also known as Jack Nicklaus, who many people still consider the greatest golfer of all time. He toured the site for his new signature course at Horseshoe Bay - to be called Summit Rock over Skywater - and made changes (some of them not so subtle) to the routing that is set to be ready for play late in 2008. "We are a long way away (with the golf course), but we are not that far away," Nicklaus said afterward at a reception in Skywater's Stonehouse sales office.

Nicklaus rode the site in a Range Rover driven by Progeny (the site's construction contactor) principal David Oberle and was followed by a pack of 10 four-wheel-drive mules sporting Horseshoe Bay officials, local politicians and press. The Golden Bear spent almost four and hours touring the site, whose holes are roughed-in but mostly rock, grass and - a lot of - dust.

"I think the Hill Country is the Hill Country - it is all bony," Nicklaus said. "You try to figure out how we are going to build a course without moving any more rock than you have to. That was what we were doing today - making sure that the routing was suitable and to give the construction team some strategy. We are going to work our way from there."

From comments overheard between Nicklaus, Oberle and Chet Williams, senior design associate for Nicklaus Design, the master is considering options such as switching the nines of the golf course, eliminating back-to-back doglegs that turn in the same direction, and relocating several greens. "We have four or five holes where we have a little work to do, and we are going to change them a little to minimize the amount of rock work that has to happen," Nicklaus said. "We did change three or four holes around, but not extensively. This is essentially the same routing I did when I was here six years ago."

Nicklaus called the Skywater site "a nice piece of property," and noted that his team was working to determine the most efficient way to build the golf course. "That is part of my job - to figure out how to build a really good golf course here without breaking the bank book of the owners," Nicklaus said. "Right now we have probably a dozen holes that fit in nicely. There will be a series of memorable holes on this track, that's for sure."

The 7,200-yard Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course is scheduled to open in fall 2008. It will feature a clubhouse and pro shop that will be an integral part of the 1,600-acre residential and golf community overlooking Horseshoe Bay Resort and Lake LBJ in the heart of Texas Hill Country.

Summit Rock will boast some of the best views in the region from the top of the ridge line. The 200-acre, par-72 course is divided into two distinct sections - a lower, level playing area and an upper area on more rugged terrain high on the ridge. Designed with the natural landscape in mind, existing oak trees, water features and granite outcroppings will play a key role in determining the placement of each hole.

Upon completion, the course will be owned by Horseshoe Bay Resort, joining the resort's three, championship Robert Trent Jones Sr. golf courses. In addition to Summit Rock Golf Club, Skywater over Horseshoe Bay will feature a private community center, fitness center, extensive hiking and biking trails, tennis courts, private neighborhood pools and gardens.

Further amenities are available at the neighboring Horseshoe Bay Resort, one of the most prized vacations destinations in Texas. All residents of Skywater can become members of the resort and will have their resort initiations fee waived, a value of $75,000.

Nicklaus, who has designed more than 300 courses around the world, has three signature tracks in play within an hour's drive of the Lake Marble Falls Bridge: The Hills of Lakeway's signature course, Cimarron Hills in Georgetown and Cordillera Ranch in Boerne. He also co-designed the Flintrock Falls course at The Hills of Lakeway with his son Jack Nicklaus II.

Nicklaus said that of those four, The Hills' signature course was closest in the challenges he faces at Skywater. "Cimarron Hills was a very easy golf course to do because we moved very little dirt there, maybe only 50,000 yards," Nicklaus said. "We didn't move very much at Cordillera either, but we did move a lot at Lakeway, but that was a long time ago.

"We have made a few changes at Lakeway over the years, but that is a course that has always stood the test of time," Nicklaus added. "Lakeway was also a bony piece of property - much like we have here at Skywater."

Construction personnel and the Nicklaus Design team will now go to work on the changes their boss dictated Sunday, with another visit from the golfing legend in the offing sometime in spring 2008.

Steve Habel is an Austin, Texas-based journalist. Since 1990, he has traveled around the globe covering news, business and sports assignments for various news bureaus, newspapers, magazines and websites. He also contributes to Business District magazine in Austin as managing editor and is the Texas football beat writer and a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated, the Austin-based magazine for University of Texas sports. Habel writes a weekly golf column for The River Cities Tribune in Marble Falls, Texas, and is a member of the Texas Golf Writers' Association.